The meaning of planets, stars, and celestial bodies appearing in tarot
We have already discussed the idea that the Sun typically represents masculine or yang energy, while the Moon represents feminine or yin energy (except in a few cultures, where it is reversed!). Using this concept, the Sun and the Moon are equal – two sides of a coin, two complimentary types of energy. This is one way of looking at the Sun and the Moon.
However, in the trump sequence, the Moon appears first and is typically considered a more problematic and difficult part of the journey than the Sun, in which, psychologically speaking, we have emerged from the underworld and our work with the shadow-self, and are ready to make the transition to full integration. In this construct, the Sun is a later stage of the integration process than the Moon, which represents our long return through the underworld of the subconscious to the light.
This concept and associated Moon/Sun symbolism has its basis and origin in alchemy. There are three primary colors associated with alchemical processes – black, white, and yellow/red. The black represents the early stages of the alchemical transformation, in which the male and female elements are separated and recombined in various ways, reduced to ash, and undergo various other transformations which blacken the starting materials. These processes are represented by the Devil and the Tower. In the next stage, the black material is successively purified and whitened, which is represented by the Star and the Moon, and a white or silver color. Finally, this female material or silver/white stone, is united with the golden seed or masculine principal to create the integrated self, represented by gold, or the philosopher’s stone. This process is started in the Sun and culminates with the World.
One small comment on the way the sun is represented in many decks – with alternating straight and wavy rays. This is an ancient way of representing the sun known as the philosopher’s sun, and illustrates the Sun as the source of light (straight rays) and heat (wavy rays) – illumination and warmth, the life-giving energies.
In Rider-Waite, it can be seen that the Moon has a somewhat golden color, not the color we would expect to be associated with the Moon. This illustrates the concept that the Moon reflects the light of the Sun, and the only light that shines on the underworld or subconscious is merely a reflection, which gives rise to distortions and illusions.
The falling drops from the Moon may be yet another alchemical reference to dew that was gathered by alchemists in the light of the full moon, and used to wash and purify the blackened material to silver. The dew is called May Dew, is collected at night from the air, and is milky in color, believed to be related to the milk and blood of alchemy, so represents the feminine purifying and life-giving principal.
In some cards, the Moon is depicted as a larger circle with a smaller circle inside it, offset to one side. Robin Wood explains this as a symbolic representation of the “full moon in the arms of the new”, an allusion to the ever-changing phases of the moon and its changeable, yet predictable and cyclical, nature.
In the Star card, the seven stars are references to the seven planets of ancient astronomy/astrology, and the seven alchemical operations and metals that they represent. The central eight-pointed star is a reference to the eight-spoked Wheel which was one of Waite’s central concepts for the tarot deck (see the numbers/symbols lesson). However, the 8-pointed star goes back well beyond Waite to the Tarot de Marseilles, and may represent an older mystical tradition. Here is what the Alchemical Tarot says about it: “At the top is the 8 pointed star which symbolizes the eighth sphere of the fixed constellations. They are unaffected by the four elements because they are composed of a fifth element, ether. This ethereal realm is the “horos” (boundary) to the “pleroma” (fullness) of heaven”.
Teresa Michelsen is a well known and highly respected tarot reader and instructor, and also the original creator of Tarot Moon.
Theresa has over 25 years experience in reading tarot.
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